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If this is Greece...It must be Sophocles
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by Haskell Barkin
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Where did the theatre come from? Where is it going? Why is there gum under my seat? For those who have lain awake pondering these sticky questions, here is an easy-to-understand answer to at least one of them.
 
Theatre began when an ancient Greek named Thespis invented "dialogue," or one person having a heated discussion with another. Until then all the actors spoke at the same time, in what was known as a chorus, and then they all waited for a reply. Sometimes they waited for days, standing there on the stage in platform shoes with their faces painted white.

It's easy to see how welcome Thespis was. With only on actor speaking at a time, all the other actors were available to answer him. Unfortunately, this invention led to unemployment in the profession since Greek producers, like producers today, had to work under tight budgets. They quickly realized that if only one actor asked the question, only one had to answer it, and the rest of the chorus could be let go. 

Thus the birth of the theatre coincided with the birth of one of its oldest traditions, a high unemployment rate among actors. With time on their hands, these actors began to drink too much. Cirrhosis of the liver became a common complaint. Aeschylus, the first great playwright, dealt symbolically with this social problem in his play Prometheus Bound. It is about a man who has a vulture pecking away at his liver.

However, Aeschylus is best remembered for his tragedy Agamemnon, which is part of another Greek incention called a "trilogy," or too much of a good thing.

The second great playwright after Aeschylus was Sophocles, who was also an ordained priest, an acrobat, and director of the Treasury Department. People who are trying to prove that Shakespeare's plays were written by somebody else would be wiser to switch their attention to Sophocles. It is nonsense to believe that he could have written a hundred plays in between performing marriages, doing cartwheels, and trying to hold down the interest rate.

It is true, though, that only a man with these drains on his energies could have devised so bizarre a plot as that of Oedipus Rex.

One imagines Sophocles faithfully sitting down at his writing desk after a hard day, and trying desperately to whip up a play for the next season. After a couple of hours the paper is still blank and he's cursing Aeschylus for using up all the good ideas. It's late, he'd had a bit of wine to keep his spirits up, and his mind is in total disorder.

In this distraught state he dreams up a story about a man who kills his father by mistake, marries his mother, and finally blinds himself with a brooch.

[[image- ink drawing of a door with a star surrounded by greek pillars with the words Dressing room written, sketch credited to Stuart Leeds]]

Sophocles dashes off the play in a burst of frenzied energy, then invites a few friends over to read it to the. They are appalled. "Not bad for an acrobat," they say to themselves, but tell Sophocles nothing of the sort, because they don't want their income tax returns audited.
 
It is impossible to speak of Sophocles and Aeschylus without mentioning Euripides, the other important Greek play-

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